Understanding Data Center Security

data center security
data center security

When you think of data center security, do you picture walls topped with barbed wire, access-controlled security doors and armed guards stopping attacks? Well a determined threat only needs to rent space in the data center to bypass this. Data center security is much more nuanced, and requires a collaborative approach to counter digital threats.

We are at the forefront of data center security, so whether you’re a standard colocation customer or you’re looking for a fully managed service with Colo+, your data is in safe hands. However, with all data centers, security is also a shared responsibility between the data center and its customers.

This article will give a comprehensive rundown of data center security—what it is, what the threats are, who is responsible, and best practices to ensure your data is secure.

What is Data Center Security?

Data centers store critical and often sensitive information for businesses and other organizations, so the consequences of data loss can be severe, including massive financial costs and reputational damage. Having top-tier data security is crucial in these environments.

Data center security refers to a comprehensive set of strategies, protocols, and measures designed to protect a data center’s infrastructure and the valuable data stored within it. It encompasses both physical and digital defenses against various types of threat.

Physical security involves controlling access to the data center facility, employing surveillance cameras, 24/7 personnel, and ensuring the facility is safeguarded against natural disasters, power outages, and other external threats. Regular audits, vulnerability assessments, and disaster recovery plans further maintain a data center’s physical security posture.

Digital security includes deploying firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption protocols to safeguard data from cyber-attacks, breaches, and unauthorized access.

The Threats to Data Center Security

There are numerous threats that can compromise the security of data center facilities. Some need tackling from before the data center is even built, such as;

Accidental or Environmental Threats

Threats to data center security that are not criminal in nature typically fall under the category of environmental or accidental threats. These threats can be just as devastating as criminal threats, if not more so, because they can affect the entire facility and are often unpredictable. They include:

Natural disasters: Earthquakes can cause structural damage to the data center building, disrupt power supplies, and damage hardware. Flooding can destroy equipment, disrupt power, and require extensive recovery efforts. Fires can spread quickly and cause catastrophic damage to a data center’s infrastructure.

Environmental threats: Data centers must be kept cool to prevent overheating. Extreme temperature fluctuations or HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) failures can lead to equipment malfunctions. Too much or too little humidity can harm server performance and lifespan. Beyond flooding, water damage can occur due to leaks in the building or from the cooling systems themselves. Finally, dust buildup can clog cooling systems and cause servers to overheat.

To counter these, our Houston data center has a range of unique features. In fact the location was purposefully built outside of the 500 year floodplain, 3ft above ground level, and out of the way of high-speed hurricanes with our roof built to withstand 145% of theoretical max wind speeds. Read more about the strategy behind our location here.

Human error: Manual processes at any stage leave open the possibility of human error. Systems can be configured poorly, leaving them vulnerable to downtime or data loss. Failing to regularly update and maintain equipment can also lead to vulnerabilities and potential failures. Approximately 70% of outages are caused by human error too.

Implementing free remote hands on plays a big part in how we’re reducing human error, and with our Colo+ service, we’re able to practically eliminate human error with rack setup and management. Read more about this here.

Physical Data Center Security

Physical threats are what data centers are primarily responsible for on an ongoing basis. These fall into three categories:

Crimes of opportunity: Typically perpetrated by individuals who take advantage of lapses in security measures. To counteract this, data centers, including us, employ a robust “security theatre” – an array of highly visible security measures designed to deter potential intruders.

Many security theatre measures are the things anyone would notice when they visit a data center: tall fences, locked gates, guards, surveillance cameras, and so on are designed to stop crimes of opportunity. Because of their role as deterrent, these types of physical security measures are often described as “security theatre”. However, they aren’t just for show—perimeter defenses ensure data centers are highly secure buildings.

However, perimeter defenses, whilst important, don’t help with some of these other physical threats to data centers.

Internal threats: These originate from within the organization and can be more challenging to mitigate. Sometimes, too many layers of security can be counterproductive. For instance, if there are too many barriers in the way of employees as they go about their day-to-day work, they may end up leaving doors unlocked or propped open for the sake of convenience. This behavior can inadvertently aid crimes of opportunity, highlighting the need for a balanced approach to security. Education, training, and fostering a culture of security awareness are vital in addressing internal threats.

Determined threats: These are individuals or groups with a specific agenda to breach data center security. These actors are willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goals, including potentially posing as customers to gain access. Ensuring that every customer’s rack and infrastructure are well-secured is crucial in thwarting these threats. Data centers like us offer a suite of advanced security options, including custom cages, motion sensors, dedicated surveillance cameras, mantraps, controlled access points, and security personnel to provide comprehensive protection.

Addressing these threats and creating a secure and resilient environment demands a holistic approach, combining visible deterrence, internal vigilance, and advanced security solutions.

Managing determined threats

The most dangerous threats don’t need to physically break-in to a data center. To get near to your physical servers, an attacker can simply rent space in the same data center. That’s why we couple best-in-class physical security with customized security at the point of access:

  • Rack-Level Security: Enhanced locking mechanisms on individual server racks or cages, possibly biometric or multi-factor authentication.
  • Layered Access Controls: Beyond key card access to the facility, there may be other authentication steps required to access the data or hardware, such as PIN codes, card readers, and biometric scanners.
  • Tailored Solutions: Recognizing that different clients might have different security needs, we can offer a range of security options or bespoke solutions, depending on the specific requirements or sensitivities of the data being stored.

Cloud Storage Security

Cloud storage is a popular alternative to colocation, let’s briefly look at its security implications.

Cloud storage providers certainly implement many security measures, from end-to-end encryption and multi-factor authentication to regular security audits and compliance certifications. However, there are inherent risks to cloud environments compared to having access to physical premises (as with colocation).

Cloud storage customers inevitably relinquish a certain amount of control, and they must place lots of trust in their cloud providers to implement adequate security. The shared responsibility model of cloud security requires customers to take active steps in protecting their data, which, if overlooked, could lead to exposure. Cloud providers, being high-value targets for cybercriminals, also face the risk of widespread data breaches. For all these reasons, colocation with a trusted partner is more secure than cloud storage.

Digital Data Center Security

Unlike physical security, which the data center is responsible for, digital security is a collaborative endeavor. Protecting data from cyber threats, like viruses and digital breaches, requires a multi-faceted approach.

Let’s examine the core responsibilities of data center clients when it comes to digital security.

Proactive IT Security Policies

  • Customers must establish and enforce strict access controls.
  • Sensitive data access should be carefully controlled, with permissions granted based on needs.
  • Regular security policy audits and reviews are essential to maintain integrity.

System Updates and Password Controls

  • Timely updates and patches are needed to maintain defenses against newly emerging threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Strong, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication are essential best-practices to follow.

Network-Level Security

  • Firewalls, when optimally set up, play a vital role in defending the network perimeter.
  • Secure communication protocols and encryption safeguard data in transit.

Regular monitoring and updating of network security settings help in adapting to new threats.
By embracing a collaborative approach to digital security, data center customers can maintain integrity and confidentiality of their data, leveraging the physical security strengths of data centers whilst taking responsibility for protecting their digital assets from virtual threats.

It’s worth considering to use a Managed Service Provider to manage this for you, their experience can often make your servers securer and save money. Choosing an MSP shouldn’t be hard, we’d recommend NETdepot here.

In Conclusion

Understanding how secure are data centers is a complex topic with many different aspects to consider. In this article, we delved deep into many aspects of data center security, highlighting the indispensable role of physical measures such as access controls, surveillance, and disaster preparedness, along with the customer’s role in maintaining digital defenses, like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption protocols.

We navigated through the myriad of threats to data centers, categorizing them into accidental, environmental, physical and cyber threats. Then we looked more closely at the types of physical threats out there – from opportunists to determined attackers. The discussion on cloud storage security also plays a significant role, highlighting the necessity for customers to actively engage in the protection of their data.

The emphasis on determined threat management and the implementation of customized security solutions at both the rack and data access levels advocates for a vigilant and proactive security stance from customers. Stringent IT security policies, timely system updates, robust password controls, and comprehensive network-level security measures are all crucial.

By relying on us for the physical security of your servers and taking a balanced and proactive approach to digital security, you can ensure the ongoing integrity, confidentiality, and resilience of your data.